Chinese trains can be very busy, especially at peak travel periods such as festivals, when it is often impossible to buy a ticket for immediate travel. One needs to book in advance.
The excellent Seat 61 website provides detailed information on booking train tickets for travel in mainland China. If you have time you may want to travel to Shenzhen and buy tickets there, either at a railway station or at a train ticket agency where the process is usually quicker as the queues are much shorter. The benefit of doing this instead of purchasing in HK is that the fee will be much lower.
In Hong Kong some travel agents sell Chinese train tickets. The most obvious one to go to is the China Travel Service which has branches across town. They have a ticketing machine connected to the Chinese railway network. A few things to note:
- You will need the name and passport number of each person for whom you are booking tickets. For those travelling on HK citizenship they will need to provide not passport number but their mainland travel permit (港澳居民來往內地通行證) number.
- There is a booking fee of 60HKD per ticket. This is not cheap for what it is. If you plan to make multiple journeys within China, for example, you may prefer to wait till you get to China to buy them at a local train ticket agent, where the fee per ticket is typically more like 5 RMB (6 HKD).
- The tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Chinese train tickets are for a specific train service, not simply a route on a given date or timeframe. So, if you wanted to travel on a different train to the one on which you are booked that would mean in principle that you would need to purchase a new ticket. In practice, although each case can differ, I have found that it can be possible to travel on the same route on the planned day but not on the train on which you are booked. You wouldn’t have a seat that way unless there was a spare one, but for example if you missed a train in error it would mean that you could take the next one. For a short journey this may be alright, for a longer journey if the train was crowded it would mean that you would likely lack a seat for most or all of the journey.
- They only sell tickets for travel which is wholly domestic (or between HK and China). So if you want to take an international train journey originating in China you will need to use a different method, for example one of the online ticket specialists offering that service – Seat 61 mentions some of the agents.
Guest Blogger: Christopher R.